It makes sense that President Obama considers his contributions to ease climate change his greatest legacy. The potentially catastrophic effects on our planet’s ecosystems, and especially on the Greenland and Antarctic icecaps—a rise in sea levels measured not in inches but in tens of feet—might well be the biggest challenge to face mankind.

Consider the stress that wartime refugees are currently placing on European countries; now imagine the social and economic chaos that will occur if tens of millions are displaced around the world’s littoral cities, where first, second, and third world coastal cities could find themselves submerged, along with all the infrastructure that supports those cities! How many of you have NOT worked in a large sea-level city?

How can a landscape architect reduce CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), CH4 (Methane) and other even more potent greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere? There are three basic things to do: Learn, Advocate, and Act Professionally. (The following list of ideas is only intended to prime the pump for discussion, research, refinement, expansion, and implementation.)

LEARN: Becoming deeply knowledgeable about how climate change will affect your career for better and for worse; figuring out where you can find good information, and engaging in critical dialog about climate change because this is an emerging science and there will be competing theories and competing solutions and you will called upon by your clients and your communities to have answers.


1. What is YOUR OWN personal carbon footprint?

i.     What tools are available to determine your footprint?

ii.     What are the elements in your lifestyle that produce the most CO2?

iii.     What are the steps you can take to most reduce your production of CO2?


2. What is the direct carbon footprint of your office and of your professional activities (travel, etc.)?

i.     How can your office reduce their production of CO2.


3. What is the carbon footprint of your city, and how does it measure up against other cities in the US, and against other cities worldwide?


4. What/who are the largest global producers of CO2?

i.     Where is the low-hanging fruit to go after first?

ii.     What are the tools that could reduce this production of CO2?


5. Who are the largest producers of CO2 in your state, and in your community?

i.     What are the tools that could reduce their production of CO2?


ADVOCATE: Take a position and advocate for that position. Heads of State need to make hard decisions, and need the support of large numbers of informed and educated citizens. Here are things that governments might need to do:

1. Introduce a graduated Carbon Tax to discourage production of CO2 and Methane; tax starts low but increases significantly over time to give carbon producers time (short) to adjust


2. Keep all fossil fuels in the ground (no new mining or drilling)

i.     No new Federal leases

ii.     No renewal  of existing Federal leases

iii.     Elimination of direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels


3. Support and Develop Non-Carbon Energy Sources

i.     Conservation (the least cost solution)

ii.     Nuclear: Improved Fission

    1. Fail-safe designs
    2. Vitrified wastes
    3. Fusion

iii.     Solar:

  1. Concentrated, large scale
  2. Distributed, small scale

iv.     Wind:

  1. Terrestrial
  2. Off-shore
  3. High altitude

v.     Hydroelectric

  1. Locations that avoid or minimize:
    1. Environmental impacts
    2. Social impacts

vi.     Geothermal

  1. Open loop deep systems
  2. Closed loop deep systems
  3. Shallow heat pump systems

vii.     Wave

  1. Near-shore
  2. Deep ocean


4. Support and Develop large-scale energy storage methods:

i.     Pumped water

ii.     Compressed air

iii.     Molten salt

iv.     Nano-tech/chemical


5. Rebuild the national electric grid to support far more power and to connect clean energy producers to energy consumers.

i.     Redundant circuit capacity

ii.     Solid state switching

iii.     High voltage direct current transmission

iv.     High temperature superconducting trunk lines


6. Develop Carbon-Free transportation options:

i.     Cars and Trucks:

  1. Electric power
  2. Hydrogen power

ii.     Rail:

  1. Freight
  2. Passenger

iii.     Air Traffic

  1. Freight
  2. Passenger

iv.     Merchant Marine:

  1. Freight
  2. Fisheries
  3. Ferries
  4. Reduction or cessation of large scale deforestation:

i.     Modify siliculture practices to maximize carbon sequestration

  1. Domestically
  2. Internationally
  3. Modification of agricultural practices:

i.     To minimize CO2 and methane production

ii.     To maximize CO2 sequestration


ACT PROFESSIONALLY: What are the things landscape architects can do within the realm of their normal professional scope of work and responsibilities?

1. Planning for communities that produce less CO2:

i.     Efficient communications

ii.     Efficient transportation

iii.     Efficient buildings

iv.     Efficient logistics


2. Design of large-scale, clean energy-producing landscapes:

i.     Solar farms

ii.     Wind farms

iii.     Energy storage environments


3. Design of small-scale, distributed energy-producing environments:

i.     Photovoltaics

ii.     Thermoelectrics

iii.     Piezoelectrics


4. Design of CO2 absorbing landscapes

i.     Urban forest canopies

ii.     Deep soil carbon


5. Specification of CO2 sequestering materials

i.     Heavy timber

ii.     Bio-char soil amendments

iii.     Carbon adsorbing building and site materials


While there are increasing numbers of people working on solutions to climate change worldwide, far too many people are still completely indifferent or even actively resisting creating solutions to the most severe effects of climate change. Will you, as a landscape architect, be part of the solution, starting today?


Kevin Shanley, now based in Oregon, is former CEO of SWA. Image is courtesy of Andrea Della Adriano via Flickr Creative Commons.


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One Response to “Climate Change and Landscape Architecture: Will You Be Part of the Solution?”

  1. Matthew Poot

    A very well timed posting on the pressing challenges – and immense opportunities – for landscape architects to interject both politically, and personally through our work in creativng both innovative and effective projects that address climate change.

    Perhaps we can bypass indifference by delivering projects that clearly demonstrate new ways of working and relating with our surroundings, and provide concrete evidence to discredit those acting as obstacles to positive change. Building out more cost-effective and efficient projects as a starting point.

    Beyond the technological dimensions of your suggestions, it seems that landscape architects can work – as SWA has – within fields such as infrastructure to induce these systemic reform on the front end.

    However, I also feel that landscape architecture has a strong potential to work directly with these issues by expanding the dialogue beyond efficiency to include other performance categories which are harder to define and quantify yet just as important in their bearing on the actual outcome – such as inducing behavioural change through re-designed urban forms and the re-organization of the hidden processes of a given region.

    We might also ask if there is a role there for firms like SWA to be involved in bringing these new kinds of solutions to address challenges in places like Haiti which struggle with similar issues of imbalance between urbanization and environment — yet are less capable of funding project work directly, or have most attention given to symptomatic treatment of impacts (food & shelter) rather than causal factors of the issues which create such significant problems (i.e. deforestation, construction standards, land use planning). Is there some way forward which could still ‘pay the bills’, but allow collaboration?


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